Difference in Paylines
The number of reels on the screen will most definitely affect the number of paylines possible in the game.
3 Reel Games
On a typical 3 reel slot, you’re only going to see between 1 and 9 paylines stretched across the three reels, which makes this a simpler game to figure out and master. Simple doesn’t have to mean less exciting, though. You’re not necessarily going to win less because of lower number of lines, but you will win in fewer ways.
5 Reel Games
These machines often give players a variety of payline combinations they can play. Many machines hold a potential of between 10 and 100 paylines over the reels. The average payline options usually number between 10 and 25 lines though. If you read our reviews, you’ll be able to see how many paylines are available on popular slots at the best casinos.
Some 5–reel slots also feature an “all ways’’ (like 243 ways to win or more) win setup, where you don’t use hard paylines, per se. Instead, wins are made when matching symbols simply land on an adjacent reel. Unlike with set paylines, these symbols need not line up along a specified pattern.
With the bigger complexity involved in 5-reel games, comes far greater variety and innovation potential.
When someone references volatility with regards to slot machines, they are talking about how often a player should expect to win or lose. All games will have a house edge built–in, but a high volatility setup is going to pay out in bigger chunks with less consistency, while a low volatility slot will give you a lot of wins, but for not so much money per win.
3–reel slots tend to be of the low to medium volatility variety, but there is no hard, fast law to this and it is possible to have a highly volatile 3-reel game, it’s just uncommon nowadays.
Almost all modern high volatility slots are 5–reel games, but that does not mean that all games of this type are highly volatile. You’ll find a pretty wide distribution in how 5–reel slots pay out to players, but it’s safe to say that more 5–reels tend toward high volatility than not, especially when it comes to progressive jackpots.
3 Reel Games
In keeping with its old school backstory, 3–reel machines tend to stay simple in regard to graphics and sounds. You won’t see any dramatic video cutaways and theatrics or intense musical interludes. Instead, you’ll get a lot of traditional and generic “pings” and “dings”. It’s very common for classic 3-reel games to use fruit symbols, bells, sevens, bars, and other traditional symbols to fill their reels.
5 Reel Games
This is probably the most noticeable difference between these slot types. 5–reel machines can get pretty crazy with their use of graphics and sounds.
5-Reel games come in a variety of themes. Think of a genre and you will most probably find a slot game to celebrate it. As technology and innovation increases, so do the stellar features, visuals, and sounds found in these slot games. Many of the titles harness theatrical animations and high definition sound to immerse its players with.
When it comes to special features, the sky is the limit. All the latest gimmicks and innovations can be found on the larger reel set machines.
Contrast in Jackpots
Most 3-Reel slots do have some sort of jackpot, but it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to dish out millions and change your life forever. Occasionally you’ll get a 3–reel with a massive payday, but the prizes are usually capped to a factor of a few thousand multiplied by a smaller bet denomination.
You’re more likely to find a life-changing payday among the 5 reels. Think of Mega Moolah by Microgaming, and Hall of Gods by NetEnt. These games thrive over 5-reels.
Progressive jackpots get bigger with time, building up as more and more players pour money into the game without hitting the jackpot. Once a lucky player spins the right combo to win said jackpot, the total resets and the jackpot begins recounting. These jackpots can start as high as $1 million and count up from there, so this is where you can take your biggest swings for outstanding paydays.
Difference in Gameplay
As we’ve said a few times already, simplicity is the big drawcard for 3–reel slots. You’re going to choose a coin size, spin the reels, then repeat until you’ve had your fill. Not much in the way of variety here.
5–Reel machines offer a lot more in terms of strategy and entertainment options. You can choose how many paylines to play and all that, but then there are often different types of bonus rounds hidden within the slot.
Many machines will feature “scatter symbols” that can be used to trigger free spin bonus rounds, where you can spin the reels for free and take home all the winnings. Some games also have other little bonus games that tie into a grand plot, creating something of a video game experience along with the slot playing.
Which game is for you?
In the end, it’s up to you which type of game to play, and frankly, you shouldn’t feel like you have to pick one or the other.
In general, though, 3–reel games are perfect for beginners who don’t completely understand how slots work. Because of its simplicity, a classic slot is going to be easier to learn on. After you’ve taken some reps there, try sliding over to one of our endorsed 5–reel machines and see if you can follow along with the action. In general, veteran players tend to prefer all that complexity — as well as the bigger jackpots.